The question of whether or not religion and politics need to interact has been remaining debatable arguably since both were invented. Many a time has history known religion interfere into secular political affair, leading to controversial decisions as well as bloody quests of faith and unjustified use of violence that it implied. Times have changed and now after their pleading guilty to some unfair religious practices, such as the Catholic Holy Inquisition, to put a simple example, religious groups are campaigning against human rights abuse and want equal participation in debatable questions granted by political elite. However, the question now becomes: in which way should religious groups become politically active and what directions they should follow not to tarnish their reputation as they did years ago?
Christianity is one of the world’s biggest religions with thousands of followers throughout the world that find it their sacred duty to abide by the Holy Bible that holds human life in the highest esteem and deprecates any attempts of having it taken away from him or her, whether it be a human being that treads a sinful earth or a child unborn. One of the ways for a child unborn to be depraved of his life is by abortion when female pregnancy is prematurely terminated, with human embryo being removed from a woman’s womb. While it is legally acceptable, more importantly understandable, in most societies, the Holy Church considers it the act of murder or a huge sin, which makes them take to the streets in demonstrations, staging them in front of imposing public institutions and abortion clinics, that public opinion might be firmly behind them and it might become abortion that will be terminated at some point, as are human lives as of this moment. Religious groups are many and all of them have their attitudes towards political activeness and ethical controversies, such as abortion. Of all world religions, Buddhism tolerates abortion in some cases when it comes to childbirth causing health complications for mother or the possibility of a handicapped child being born, which is high. The followers of Islam and Christianity seem to be less tolerant towards attempts to terminate a human life at its budding stage, so to speak. Abortion is just one of a large indefinite number of questions that has both political elite and religious groups collide, with the latter putting their attitude on display.
Political powers are make no haste to rush these demands into law by railroading bills of such kind since, being all about manipulating certain groups of electorate, they are very cautious about making decisions that have a potential of getting a huge amount of voters alienated from them owing to their being for or against some ticklish ethical issues, such as abortion. Banning abortion, as requested, is likely to produce claims as to clampdown on democracy as well as human rights violations, most importantly, those of women who suffer, being prone to sexual harassment, such as raping, that may cause them to become pregnant.
Religious participation in such important societal issues is a litmus paper of democracy and fair governing where every organization and individual has the right to voice concerns and reveal his or her mindset. With that in mind, religion being involved in political affairs is a must-be national phenomenon; however it should never become political, much less be used on political purposes due to the amount of influence it has always had on human consciousness as well as unquestionable authority that would have crusaders campaigning in the holy lands, propagating Christianity by anything but orthodox means, augmenting the Holy Church possessions years ago, which has been publicly acknowledged by now. In some countries church dictating political will has been practised for centuries up till now regardless of the principle to stay above politics.
Eastern Europe sometimes does see separate ecclesiastical leaders dictating well-disguised political guidelines, which by no means facilitate people’s welfare improvement. European and other world kingdoms, empires and states used to spend years trying to get political elite laicized. With power corrupting and the ultimate power corrupting ultimately, it was decided catholic clergy should be banned from politics due to excessive involvement. By that, it is not that politics and religion never cooperated successfully because history does know shining examples when politics and religion acted as one. Believed to be the founder of Islam and God’s herald, Prophet Muhammad, an intense conqueror, unified Arabia under the banner of a new religion, being a religious, military as well as political leader. There is no denying secular political power and holy church should not be synonymous; still their interaction will be beneficial for society in many ways, should it be in a rather limited way.
Little or relative should be religious groups participation in politics; since it is wise to render to Caesar things that are Caesar’s. All institutions have their unique functions and expertise of how to deal with certain issues, be it political or religious happenings. Bilateral intrusion into each other’s affairs may have chaotic consequences as there is no room for politics in religion while religious influence that is more than just a mere contribution is about as detrimental. Church or religious groups should watch that people may be treated in pious, chaste, and respectable ways in accordance with the Holy Scripture, without being maltreated by law enforcement structures and military men, with the rights, especially that to live or to be born sometimes breached by statutes and conventions that have certain states or countries impose capital punishment, imprison captives under unbearable conditions or legalize abortion. Far be it from religious groups to be manipulated by political force. Such groups should not be involved in lobbying bills any more than they should agitate for certain candidates that are used to putting religious authority to a good use in some countries since people tend to believe in what church says. All religious groups need to do is make sure church remains a mediator between the God and people, but not between a politician and his potential voters. Peaceful public demonstrations, joint seminars and religious propaganda, in the high sense of the word, otherwise attempts to bring God’s word and wisdom to solve social controversies, should be used as effective peaceful tools of religious groups.
An opinion of religious groups should be sought on matters that border on religion, ethics, and society. Important is that religious groups should not be fanatical or preach extreme ideology that hinges on chauvinism, else hypertrophic patriotism, and racial intolerance that may be fed by political ideology or that of radical groups since holy wars conducted by extreme groups, blessed by spiritual leaders and made legal by local governments may authorize bloodshed, as used to do the Catholic Church papal writs unleashing aggression in the name of faith. Eastern Europe societies do not seem to have strong affiliation to religion, with communist ex-regimes having denied and trampled religion for nearly a century while western communities enjoy relative religious pluralism. That being said, Islam is arguably the only strong and radical religion, which long-term intense cooperation with political apex power may culminate in religion-induced big-scale political decisions, such as military actions or territorial takeover for the good of faith or if only to protect Muslims from quasi-abusive treatment, especially if flavored by unstable political conjuncture that is not seldom these days.
Overall, the involvement of religious groups may be beneficial unless it is dictated by political motives because if it is a situation similar to that in the Medieval and later eras may transpire, with religion sanctioning or unleashing hostilities. Religion factor plays an important role in fair and respectable treatment of people on governmental part. However, religious groups, representing the Holy Church should stay aloof from lobbying decisions or spreading political propaganda and agitating for would-be state officials.
Christianity: Constantine the Great
A Jewish sect, early Christians were subject to serious persecution at the hands of local religious authorities of Judea under king the Herod as well as Roman authorities to have made the kingdom of Herod their satellite or client state by then, with Pontius Pilate, a Judean prefect and Jesus’ prosecutor being one of the fiercest foe of Jews and religious sects under Emperor Tiberius. A new faith was undermining the foundations of local authorities that heavily relied on religion, authorizing their reign and conquests. Having such a religion preach its own doctrine, denying or questioning the good of the existing regime, was equal to handing the attributes of power over to new spiritual leaders. However, some three centuries later situation had changed due to a complex of reasons, such as imperial power dilution, racial mixing, upheavals by Praetorian guards, the succession of “Barrack Emperors”, the end of “Pax Romana”, or Roman Peace, the period of stability and prosperity, the Crisis of the 3-rd century, moral depravity, and patrician corruption that was eroding the Roman Empire brought things to the point where religious concessions and tolerance seemed to be the sole way out of dissension in a near-split empire, full of rebellious sentiments.
Constantine the Great was the first to publicly acknowledge, what is more, legalize Christians who would be cudgeled, stoned to death or thrown to wild animals at the grandest stage of them all, Roman Coliseum, a century prior. The acknowledgement of Christianity became the beginning of the end for the multinational empire, which was based on paganism and associated with the whole pantheon of Gods while the ever-growing aspiration to worship the one and only God that did not demand that a sacrifice should be made, much less called for proved to be much needed. The period of economic as well as social instability and the religion associated with it were destined to become history.
According to Bergenske (n.p.), around the time of Constantine ascension the Roman Empire was a well-prepared ground for the acceptance of a new religion both philosophically and religiously. The writings of Plato as well as Neo-Platonism developed by Plotinus paved firm ground for monotheism based on salvation and deification. The biggest contribution of Constantine was made, with him not yet Christian at the stage of legalizing the faith. Ibid (n.p.) admitted, “the empire became Christian without passing through the crisis of the baptismal trial” (qtd. in Bergenske n.p.). The conversion came without particular tensions or outbursts of violence, but quaere, is not it an immeasurable merit of Constantine the Great?
Bergenske (n.d.) suggests that the Edict of Milan passed by both Constantine and Licinius, the Roman emperor of the East, as far back as 313 AD, a huge landmark of the history of Christianity, became a turning point that made Christian worshipping practices unrestrained. The edict differed much from that accepted in 311 by Constantine and Licinius in the way it treated Christianity since not only was it given the status of official religion, but it also rendered paganism nearly banned. It was now paganism that was subject to persecution; however Constantine was said to give the former supreme religion a modicum of time and a mediocre amount of freedom in attempts to maintain a fragile balance in society that was on the point of transitioning (Bergenske n.d.).
Granting paganism long-term or eternal toleration would be tantamount to having false religion spreading heresy. The Edict of Milan was huge in its effect, making it possible for monasticism to prosper on the Roman Empire soil as well as during later centuries. Monasticism would do a lot to spread Christianity and bring its popularity to new heights as well as letting it hold dominant positions until Reformation and well beyond, literally coming into vogue. Constantine and the whole empire were not converted until 324, in the year that Licinius, one of the remaining members of Tetrarchy, the co-signee of the Edict, who was known for having conspired with another Constantine’s brother-in-law, Bassianus, was given battle and then defeated due to his backsliding into paganism, ruining churches, and exterminating clergy (Bergenske n.d.).
Speaking of contribution to Christianity, what Constantine did was issue decrees that enlarged the authority of episcopacy, strengthening the positions of church. More than that, the equal rights were granted to Christianity as religious doctrine while Christian clergy received benefits and privileges similar to those owned by pagan priesthood. One of the key prerequisites to Christianity transitioning into one of the world’s most worshipped religion was the so-called church government centralization. However, the true centralization came with Byzantium being reconstructed and since then on called Constantinople, which foundation goes as far back into the past as 324 AD. Being a new capital of the Roman Empire that it was, it soon became political, economic, cultural as well as religious center of the empire, no longer associated with paganism or the now banned gladiatorial ruthlessness, with religious festivals held, hymns sung, trade contacts invoking Trinity and being marked by the sign of the holy Cross. Monks are thought to have somewhat been a counterbalance to Christendom, though helping maintain and spread the word of God. By 230, when the capital was moved to Constantinople, Christianity had already entered into every aspect of Byzantine life (Bergenske n.d.). That was a true stroke of genius on the part of the emperor to create a new capital where Christianity flourished and cemented its status as world religion.
Bergenske (n.d.) asserts that a key figure in shaping Christianity became the Bishop of Constantinople appointed by Constantine. The Bishop would oversee adjacent Ephesus at later stages while after that he competed with patriarchate in Alexandria for ultimate ecclesiastical supremacy. Constantine may also be credited with erecting faith propagating buildings, such as the Church of St. Irene and the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople while in Rome he built the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of Laterna. The Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem as well as the Church of Sepulchre was erected in Palestine. The foundations for the Hagia Sophia were laid by none other than Constantine the Great (Bergenske n.d.).
The sacred places as well as churches were being erected in all the provinces of the Roman Empire, which enables physical assessment of his achievements of the emperor who was dubbed as saint for a good reason as a founder and the biggest patron of Christianity that survived the biggest hardships of the turbulent Medieval turmoil, being harbored by sacred churches and immortalized in the holy writs, and gave us the privilege to be its followers. With Constantine the Great at the helm of the empire, Roman Empire became the light again that was beaconing the path of faith shed from Constantinople, to which all roads since then on now were leading.
Bergenske, Theodore. “St. Constantine the Great. Influential Figure in the History of the Church.” The Journal of the Chicago Pastoral School. 1.1 (2005): n.pag. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.